A woman swimming off Bailey Island in Harpswell on Monday afternoon was attacked and killed by a shark in what one expert says is the first such fatality recorded in Maine waters.

The woman has not been identified pending notification of her family.

She was swimming offshore near homes on White Sails Lane when a witness saw her being attacked by what appeared to be a shark, the Maine Marine Patrol said.

Two kayakers brought the victim and another woman to shore, where a crew of Harpswell emergency responders met them. The woman died at the scene.

The second woman, who was swimming with the victim, was not injured, said Jeff Nichols, a marine patrol spokesman.

“This is the first documented fatality ever in Maine,” James Sulikowski, a former University of New England professor and researcher who conducts shark research in Maine and locations worldwide, said in an interview Monday evening. “Shark interactions with humans are very rare in Maine.

“My guess is that the person was mistaken as a food item. In this area of Maine and depending on how close to shore the event occurred, my guess is it was a white shark.”

In October 2010, a man diving off the coast of Eastport said an 8-foot shark attacked him after it apparently mistook his camera for food. The diver was able to fend off the shark with his camera, and took video of the encounter. In the video, the shark’s teeth fill the frame before it swims off.

Sulikowski, whose shark research experience spans more than 25 years, currently works with Maine fishermen, who help him collect data on shark species. The data may help scientists and researchers better understand how the shark population is affecting commercial fisheries.

One thing has become clear to him – more great white sharks are migrating north to Maine from Cape Cod as the competition for food resources on the Cape intensifies. His research has been featured on the Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” show, on NBC’s “Today” show and on “Ocean Mysteries” with Jeff Corwin.

Sulikowski said it was only a matter of time before a conflict between humans and sharks took place due to the state’s healthy population of seals – a shark delicacy. Sulikowski is fairly certain the victim’s attacker was a great white shark, a large predatory animal that can reach lengths of more than 17 feet. More of the white sharks have been seen off the coast of Maine in recent years, he said. White sharks are fast swimmers and can reach Maine in one day from the waters off Cape Cod.

The shark that attacked the woman in Harpswell may have been the same shark that attacked a seal in Phippsburg on Sunday. That attack left a a 19-inch long bite mark – the seal was not eaten– that could only have been made by a shark 11 feet long or larger, he said.

Great white sharks, also known as white sharks, are known as ambush predators. They can travel at high speeds and like to sneak up on their prey. Sulikowski said white sharks have been known to swim below the surface before rocketing upward like a torpedo and striking their unsuspecting prey with as much force as possible.

The Cumberland County Communications Center received a call for help from Harpswell at 3:29 p.m. Monday, a county dispatcher said.

Sheriff Kevin Joyce said deputies responded along with members of the marine patrol. The U.S. Coast Guard sent a boat from its South Portland base, but it turned around after learning the victim had been brought to shore by the kayakers. Joyce said there is no beach at White Sails Lane, which is near Land’s End in Harpswell.

The investigation is continuing and more information will be provided as it becomes available, the marine patrol said. The state agency is urging swimmers and boaters to use caution near Bailey Island and to avoid swimming near schools of fish or seals.

Sulikowski also urged caution, warning people not to swim near seals.

“We can easily be mistaken for a seal …  as a shark’s dinner,” he said.

According to the Florida Museum’s International Shark Attack File, there has been only one recorded report of an unprovoked shark attack in Maine – the scuba diver in Eastport. The ISAF is the only scientifically documented, comprehensive database of all known shark attacks. It was established in 1958 and has investigated more than 6,500 reports of shark attacks dating back hundreds of years.

The ISAF recommends that people swim in groups, not wear shiny or reflective swimwear, stay close to shore and avoid swimming during darkness or twilight hours to avoid shark attacks.

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